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What impedance headphones should I use with my audio interface?

Many customers email us asking what headphones they should buy to go with their Focusrite interface, as there are many different models on the market.

In general higher impedance headphones advertise more detail, but can result in quieter levels when compared to a lower impedance headphone used at the same level.

Thus pairing of very high impedance headphones with some of our USB Bus Powered interfaces can leave some customers feeling the volume isn't loud enough, especially when listening to raw mics instead of playback audio that is fully mixed and mastered.

As USB Bus Powered units don't start with as much power as their counterparts with AC Wall power they aren't able to push as much wattage, or power, to the headphone jacks.

When deciding what headphones to purchase that will be loud enough for you it is important to consider that there is no perfect or ideal pairing of headphones and audio interface.  It has much more to do with the individual user's needs than an ideal model number for all situations.

In general any of our Focusrite units should work with any standard headphones.

As far as the "will this exact combination of models be loud enough for me" question the answer will vary from person to person, even for the same model units and headphones. Each of us will listen to different choices of music, which can mean very different results.

Think of the volume jump on TV when going from the show to commercial.  Very loud mixing and mastering can mean the same Volume Level on the Knob feels much louder when playing a different track or material.  Thus a customer who needs to hear a vocalist's whisper in a raw mic will need to turn the headphones up more than someone just playing back their movies and video games, regardless of impedance.

We also will all have different needs for volume.  One person may need to turn it up much louder to hear over drums or instruments, while another may prefer a quiet listening volume to preserve their hearing.  Obviously your drummer will want more volume than your mixing engineer!

Also, sometimes mastering level discrepancies create the opposite of what you expect. Since most heavier music is mastered louder for listeners who want loud music it will already be starting louder and thus be able to push hotter with less amplification needed. Whereas if you play a soft old symphony piece it may have a lot of headroom and soft mastering, and thus need more amplification to get it loud enough, even for someone who prefers soft levels.

If you compared the levels in your recording software you would see you need to crank up your old jazz recordings compared to a new Metal song just to get those two recordings sounding similar in level, with the same headphones.

If you want to have the most volume to record soft whispers and keep bleed out of microphones you may want to look for a lower Ohm headphone with closed ears. For example, Audio Technica ATH-M50x headphones, which are great and loud for studio recording, as they are 38 ohm closed ear headphones, good at isolating bleed from getting in the mic.  These are great to put on a drummer, to blast a click at him, or on a guitar player standing next to his amp, who needs to hear the playback of raw unmixed drums and bass over himself and thus needs a hot headphone.

Beyerdynamic DT 880 600 ohm version semi-closed headphones can produce a lot of detail for those users checking small edits or transients in a mix.  Combined with a powerful headphone amp you can hear really quiet stuff in your raw individual tracks you might otherwise miss.  But these may be way too quiet and produce far too much bleed when used for tracking.

It is also important to consider open headphones rather than closed for long sessions, as closed ear headphones, while great at keeping bleed out of microphones, can lead to ear infections due to lack of air circulation, especially when musicians are sweaty.

Your personal needs will come into play more than one product being bad or good. Or you may end up like many studio engineers, with different headphones for different needs.

Brands like Beyerdynamic and others will often make the same models of headphones in various different impedances for this reason.

If unsure of what to purchase follow these general guidelines:

For all USB Bus Powered Audio Interfaces look for headphones with less than 250 ohms resistance.

To power any higher resistance headphones 250 ohms plus look for an audio interface with an AC Wall adapter.

Closed headphones to prevent bleed if used on vocalists or near microphones.

Open or semi-closed headphones for control room use, long sessions and sweaty musicians for ear health.

For additional information see this article What is impedance and how does it affect the volume of my headphones?

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